Many Americans are only a generation or two removed from the experiences of rural agricultural life. The practice of family and community participation in the production and preparation for consumption of food, especially meat, is no longer familiar to most of us. Yet until refrigeration made it possible to preserve meat for longer periods, cooperative butchering provided families with fresh meat on a regular basis.
Simultaneously, working together reinforced a sense of community. In Cajun Country, folklorist Barry Jean Ancelet and others explain the significance of the boucherie in Acadian and Creole society:
Sponsorship of butchery was on a rotating basis and all members of the community within a small geographic area participated. In addition to providing an efficient way of distributing fresh meat to participating families, boucheries also were an important part of the social life of many regions, providing a chance for friends and relatives to get together on a regular basis.
While the people worked together, they also visited and talked. They found out who was doing what, who was seeing whom, who was hosting a house dance that weekend, who was ill and who had recovered, who needed help and who could give it, who was born and who had died. Laughing and gossiping, they also reinforced their sense of community as they slaughtered the animal, and cut, cleaned, and divided the meat. They also make sausages and other by-products.
Nothing was wasted. Gratons or cracklings were made of the skin. The internal organs were used in the sausages and boudin or cooked in a sauce piquante de débris or entrail stew. The intestines were cleaned and used for sausage casings. Meat was carefully removed from the head and congealed for fromage de tête de cochon (hogshead cheese). Brains were cooked in a pungent brown sauce. As in other frugal societies, it was said that the only thing lost in a pig was the squeal.
Boucheries also nurtured a sense of community in the sense that the reciprocal system on which they were based created an interdependence between members of a community that paralleled and underscored other social ties. Boucheries depended on members of the cooperative taking turns providing a pig, calf, or cow, according to the nature of the agreement. Sometimes animals were slaughtered collectively, with at least one representative of each family present to help.
Other times, one family's share in the cooperative was the work of slaughtering and preparing the meat for members of the other families to pick up on a regular basis. Since fresh meat usually could be preserved only a few days, many boucheries operated on a weekly basis. The size of the cooperative was limited to the number that could be adequately served by the animals involved.…
Today, boucheries are rare, but they have not entirely disappeared from Cajun folklife. The advent of refrigeration and supermarkets has eliminated the need, but not the desire to gather. A few families still hold boucheries for the fun of it, and a few local festivals feature boucheries as a folk craft.
-From Cajun Country by Barry J. Ancelet, Jay D. Edwards, and Glen Pitre. U Press of Mississippi, 1991.
Filmmaker Les Blank notes that the boucherie featured in Dry Wood was sponsored by the family of Eva and B-5 Fontenot. Everyone there is related by blood or marriage. Several have come for the weekend from Houston or from other areas that the family moved to in search of work away from the fields